Do you remember the product placement scene in Wayne’s World when Mike Myers pulls out a box of Pizza Hut, Doritos chips and a can of Pepsi during a conversation about “selling out?” It was funny because it was 1992 and “selling out” seemed so gauche and obviously wrong. But advertising is tricky, because it’s not always that blatant. Advertising only works when you’re not aware of it, precisely because you’re not aware of it. If you think advertising doesn’t affect you because you are able to “tune it out,” you are wrong (or you’ve never watched those Jean Kilbourne videos). Product placement, a form of advertising, isn’t always as clear-cut as it is in Wayne’s World. It isn’t just billboards and commercials on TV; it’s logos, brand names and the blogs you love.
Once you start looking at the world through a critical lens (and reading Naomi Klein), things that previously seemed innocuous morph into full-blown manifestations of corporate control. It pains me to say this, but the vast majority of fashion blogs have become little more than glorified advertisements for online shops and products like Jeffrey Campbell Lita boots.
If you can imagine the world in 2007, before blogging was a job, some people had little buttons they posted proudly on the sidebar of their blogs. These buttons featured a cute little owl and read “Ad-Free Blog.” Personally, I got pretty attached to that owl and it featured prominently on my blog for years. I barely even noticed when the market started changing, when other fashion bloggers started getting paid to write certain words and feature links to improve the SEO of other websites. For a long time, I thought that refusing every single offer of payment was the best way to maintain the integrity of my site. I simply wasn’t interested in having a hand in advertising products I didn’t care about.
I first started to “advertise” after receiving lot of sweet e-mails from Etsy sellers or online retailers who loved my blog and wanted me to pick out something to wear from their shop. There was no talk of compensation; my writing about them was seen as a “thank you” from me to them for sending me the dress. Then things got a little murkier. These simple exchanges were now referred to as “product reviews” and I started getting more and more offers from companies to hold giveaways for their product. Sure, a giveaway is a nice way to treat your blog readers, but when you really think about it, having to post about some product that I will never get to see or use and have no way of making sure my readers actually received the item reeks of utter dishonesty. I’m not getting a product sample for myself to see if/how it works, and only one person gets to win the product, while everyone has to read a post—an ad, really—about said product. It’s not that I’m selfish or don’t want to give back to readers. It’s that I just can’t stand the idea of being used to raise profit margins I will never have a stake in.
Some bloggers are out there chasing sponsors; others, like Gala Darling and Man Repeller, treat their blogs like full-time jobs. These days, I never solicit advertising, but whenever I get an e-mail and feel like having a little extra cash in my pocket, I don’t refuse. Still, this sponsored content sticks out like a sore thumb amongst my eclectic sea of babble about 1990s music, kitschy laughs and downright strange outfits.
I am not an entrepreneur, just someone with a savant-like fashion obsession. It distresses me that I have not learned to compete in a market in which The Sartorialist is hiring a Digital Ad Sales Director. I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that the lucky few make an income off their blogs alone, while I’m stuck working in retail because, while I know I am a talented and passionate writer (oh, I mean “content producer”), I lack business sense.
Social media is no longer just a way to express yourself, but also a tool for companies to promote their brand through early adopters and connect with consumers. There’s a catch, though. As social media becomes increasingly the territory of big business, it’s less and less appealing to those same tech-savvy early adopters who helped pioneer the medium.
A few weeks ago, I read a great blog post by Danielle Meder about how being an insider in the fashion industry might be good for your career, but is completely toxic to your creativity level. This truly resonated with me, because perhaps the reason why I continue to do new things and experiment with styles after six years blogging and it remains fun is because I’ve never “made it.” I started blogging before Susie Bubble, before Tavi, and I have never achieved insider status or anything close to it. For example, in October 2011, FLARE.com created a slideshow with 22 bloggers wearing Canadian fashion. Picture after picture featured a blandly “fashionable” aesthetic that appeals to people with too much money, not enough taste and a charge account at Holt Renfrew. To be painfully honest: I’m self-conscious and sensitive, and it hurt to be excluded. But even after that initial pride-sting, I remained embittered that none of the creative Canadian fashion blogs that I read and love (Nice and Shiny, Pull Teeth, Calur Villade) were included either. Whoever is creating this content seems to be aiming for mass appeal over unique perspectives.
But you don’t get anywhere in fashion by being a follower. The people who made the biggest impact in this industry, from Isabella Blow to Alexander McQueen to Kate Moss, were the people who didn’t quite fit in but kept doing their thing and never let it bother them. I’m still as weird as ever; unfortunately, not being accepted does bother me. Funnily enough, Danielle was the first fellow blogger that I ever met in person. She was a little older, and inspiring and funny and I told her that I would never “sell out.” Whatever that means, I have stayed true to myself to a fault, and never created anything I felt uncomfortable with. I’m proud to think that I haven’t “sold out,” but I feel like whenever I present myself as a fashion blogger, I’m showing off my irrelevance and inadequacy.
Something is off, I can feel it. People no longer blog simply to share their own perspectives with the world. Every fashion blog is starting to look the same. That old quote “you are unique, just like everybody else” now feels uncomfortably accurate. I don’t want to be a fashion blogger if that means (once again) being that loser girl with no friends who just doesn’t fit in compared to the glossy DSLR photos of girls with sleek hair wearing Celine. I still shop at thrift stores and will never be able to afford Celine; that’s totally okay. But I can’t compete. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still interested in sharing my writing, my style, and ultimately myself with the world, but I need to diversify and step outside of my comfort zone.
I understand that my relationship to blogging is similar to the relationship a musician would have with his or her own music. Each song is something they created, nurtured and worked really hard on; it’s a part of them. But over time you change as a person, and that is always reflected in the music you write and the message it conveys. Your fans grow up, lose touch, start listening to something else. Sometimes the music industry as a whole changes and you become irrelevant. That is, until you start making dubstep. But I hate the idea of clinging onto the music until it becomes progressively crappier and crappier and everyone hates you for not letting go when it was still good. It’s why TV shows that were only around for one season (Freaks and Geeks) are the best, because their message was perfectly preserved, cut short before they even had the chance to go downhill.
In times like these it is harder than ever to make a living as a creative individual and I have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who does. But we have to stay vigilant. While the zombified corpse of fashion blogging is eating all of our brains, I’m going to take cover and dream of better days.